Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Thu 5/3/2007 5:40 AM
Random Thought: A Quickie On Those First Year Students, II

As I was saying, so many of us call these first year students "young adults" because it rationalizes and excuses the inclination of far too many of us academics to follow a “hands off,” disengaged policy. If the truth be told and admitted, so many of us just don't or don’t want to deal with them as sacred, noble, unique, valuable, worthwhile, complex, complicated, and individual human beings. We usually have contact with them in those nameless, faceless, corralled herds we call survey courses too many of us feel we’d be better off without or are beneath our professionalism or are an imposition on our time or are palmed off to inexperienced and equally distracted TAs. So, we usually don't want to deal with those students in a ways they need and in ways we demand others deal with each of us. We take or prefer the easy route of merely depersonalizing, transmitting, testing and grading information and skills.

But, those faithful, caring, hopeful, and loving academics I know in the First Year Experience programs by whatever name they go by, I so admire them. Since I, by choice, handle only first year courses and participate in VSU’s first year experience program, I see their struggle every day. They are nurturers rather than weeders. Their hearts are filled with kindness. They bear the subtle and sometimes not so subtle slings and arrows of outrageous academic disdain. Nevertheless, they persevere. They have such stature. They find joy where others find nothing. They place no conditions on happiness, purpose, satisfaction, and fulfillment. They embrace the uncertainty of each student and see in that uncertainly a limitless fertile ground for planting faith, belief, beauty, satisfaction, fulfillment. They see the abundant richness in each tiny seed that is a first year student who supposedly doesn’t belong or can’t perform. They are not only magicians and servants; they are patient dreamers as well. That is important. These first year students are far more seeds than the blooming flowers or ripen fruit that so many academics demand they be. One of the great Greek philosophers, Epictetus, I think, said that you need time and nurturing. Nothing great, not a beautiful flower or a delicious fruit happens in an instant: “If you tell me that you desire a fig,” he said, “I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.” I would add, before all that blossoming, there must be all that constant time and effort—and love--preparing the soil, planting the seed, nourishing it, watering it, and tending to it.

There are times, a lot of times, more times than most academics wish to devote, you have to be the student's dream in order to help her or him out of her or his own nightmare. There are times you have to be the expression of her or his dream so that she or he has a shot at attaining that dream. There are times you have to give real life, color, texture, sound, taste, feel, emotion, and layer upon layer of substance to transform a student's hopeless nightmare into a faithful dream. There are times you have to demonstrate to a student that there is nothing too far away for her or him to reach. There are times you don't accept an escaping "I tried," or evading "I did my best," but only, like Yoda, lovingly—lovingly--firmly demand a "Do!." There are times you have to urge them to be their own voice rather than an echo of someone else. There are times you have to help a student find joy where she or he sees nothing but joylessness. There are times you have to help a student see that “hard” is not the same as “impossible.” There are times you have to help a student see that the impossible is so possible, that the supposedly unattainable is attainable, and that the unreachable is within her or his reach. There are times you have to bend over and help a student get up when she or he stumbles until she or he learns how to get up her- or himself. There are times you have to help a student see that not only are those first steps tough, but so are each of the continuing steps. There are times you have to help a student realize that she or he can be the dream she or he wants to be, that she or he can infuse that dream more and more into her or his life, and that by constantly reaching out and touching that dream, she or he can become that dream. That’s the magician and servant in these first year experience people as well.

Don't want to bother being that student's surrogate dream and dreamer? Fine! Don’t want to be an academic magician? Okay! Don’t want to be a servant teacher? Sure! Then, understand, all too often you leave behind at term's end a withered plant that could have been cared for back to life, an empty shell that could have housed delicious fruit, and a hole in the future that could have been darned.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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